CARA goes to great lengths to spread its message

by Anna Bratulic

Animal rightsWalking into the Concordia Animal Rights Association (CARA) office in one of the annexes on Mackay St., one is struck by the large quantity of wood leaning against their wall -- about 150 to 200 metre-long sticks bound up with tape in bundles. What could all this lumber taking up space in such a small room be for? Of course -- picket signs!

Student activism, while not as popular as it once was, remains especially alive in the animal rights movement, and CARA is no exception. Last August they demonstrated against a proposed Portuguese-style bullfight (in which the bull is not killed, as opposed to a Spanish-style fight, where the bull is killed) to take place at the Olympic Stadium. Demonstrators sported huge, rather cute-looking mock bull's heads.

"We were doing lots of stuff including letter-writing and protests," said CARA president Andrew Plumbly, who has been involved with the association for the last three years. "They (organizers) expected 30,000 people and they only got about 8,000 or 9,000, which is great."

Started in 1985 by a small group, CARA now boasts a membership of 700 to 800 who have access to a small (one-shelf) library, and the association invites guest speakers from time to time. Past guests have included Paul Watson, founder of Sea Shepherd, and Howard Lyman, the cattle-rancher-turned-vegan.

"We take on anything that has to do with furthering the issue of animal rights," Plumbly said. Among other things, they are staunchly against the use of animals in laboratories and medical research (vivisection) and the use of animals in entertainment.

CARA has had run-ins with Concordia's own Biology Department on the issue of dissection, "but it's only been on a verbal level," Plumbly said. Daring tactics by some CARA members have succeeded in attracting the national media. In 1996, former Concordia Student Union president Rebecca Aldworth skated topless on Ottawa's Rideau Canal wearing a strategically placed placard that read: "I'd Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur."

Plumbly said, "She said the cops told people to keep moving, because they were worried the ice would break underneath." Aldworth and another protester were out on the ice for only about five minutes because "it was, like, zero degrees."

Plumbly is no stranger to getting attention in unusual ways, either. He has been involved with "banner drops." This involves painting a huge banner with a slogan like "Stop The Seal Hunt," rolling it up and hiding it in someone's backpack, sneaking it into a venue (preferably one with lots of witnesses like, say, the Montreal Jazz Festival) and "dropping" or unfolding it in front of everybody when security has its back turned. They infuriated security by doing just that in 1998. "We were racing through the crowd trying to get away from them."

A similar attempt to "banner drop" from the Mount Royal cross failed. "It was frightening and very cold at 5 a.m., especially when you get there and look up [at how tall the cross is]," Plumbly said. He and a friend climbed up and tied the banner, but did not have time to drop it because police officers, watching the whole time on surveillance cameras, were soon waiting below.

They were charged with minor offenses and fined $1,000, "which I'm still trying to pay off," Plumbly laughed.

Students can become members by calling 848-7415 or dropping by 2020 Mackay St., Room 106.

Photo: An anti-fur protest in downtown Montreal in 1997.

Copyright 2000 Concordia's Thursday Report.